I think there’s only one trick to pita bread. The oven has to be really really hot. Really.
If you have an oven that will heat up to that kind of temperature without a ridiculous waste of energy, they’re fantastically easy and fast – not much preparation and less than 5 minutes to cook – and really delicious with dips or soup, or filled with salad or felafel, or halved and used as wraps with lunch fillings.
My gas oven is antique, and it doesn’t readily get up to the 250°C or 500°F you need to make the pita puff up and create a pocket. The slow combustion stove probably would get up there eventually. Luckily for me, we have a beautiful Japanese Kamado charcoal barbeque that does it beautifully, and at the same time is perfect for charring eggplants and capsicums to go with the pita. I have a little stovetop camping oven that will do it too. It will only cook one at a time, but since they’re so fast that’s ok.
Start the night before with feeding your sourdough starter:
To feed the starter, I take mine out of the fridge the night before, and mix
- 1 ¼ cups of unbleached bakers flour,
- 1 ¼ cups of water, and
- 1 ¼ cups of starter.
Put half of it back in the jar in the fridge. I am left with 1½ cups of fed starter, to put in a bowl covered with a clean cloth on the kitchen bench for the night. By morning it should be frothy and alive looking.
In the morning:
- 1 ½ cups of fed sourdough starter
- 1 cup of wholemeal plain flour
- ½ cup of bakers flour
- teaspoon of salt
Tip another half a cup of bakers flour on the bench and knead briefly. Oil a bowl and swirl the dough ball round in it to coat, and leave it sitting, covered with a clean tea towel, for a few hours to rise. How long will depend on how vigorous your starter is and how warm the day is. To speed it up, I put it out on the verandah table in the sun or on the shelf above the slow combustion stove.
Prove the Dough
After a few hours, the dough will be doubled in size and springy. Divide into 6 balls, flour your benchtop, and use a floured rolling pin to roll the balls out into an oblong shape about 5mm thick. Cover with the tea towel again and allow to prove for an hour or so. (That’s where I was up to in the picture).
Heat your oven up to very hot – 250°C or 500°F. Put lightly oiled baking trays in to heat up too.
Cook the pita for just 2 to 3 minutes till they are puffed out and just starting to colour.